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PM's advisor Hammersley warns IT firms are ignoring community needs

PUBLISHED: 16:00 25 April 2012

Ben Hammersley

Ben Hammersley

QM COLLEGE

The Prime Minister's 'ambassador' for East London Tech City, Europe's fastest-growing digital business hub, has fired a warning shot about ignoring community needs when planning high tech industries.

Author and journalist Ben Hammersley, a government advisor on how digital and IT technology affects culture and the economy, was addressing an audience of academics at the University of London’s Queen Mary college in Mile End on Monday.

“Politicians make grave mistakes with technological, social and business policies,” he told them.

“We are all obsessed with data, making things seem ‘sciencey’, pushing things round a spreadsheet for a budget.

“Getting rich isn’t the point of it all—getting rich without enriching the community is unsustainable.

“We also need more poets, more artists, more hoodies, more kebab shops, more people in the rag trade.”

High tech companies cater for data innovation—but at the expense of a vibrant and sustainable community, the editor of the technology magazine ‘Wired’ believes.

“They have no interest in pavement cafés or pretty girls on bicycles—or compassion, kindness, happiness or the things people value in an urban environment,” he stressed.

“Instead, they optimise what’s important to them as a company. But you can’t run a city or country like a company.”

East London was “blessed with hundreds of cultures and languages,” he observes.

“Tech City is not a place for venture capitalists to find cheap rent for a good investment return, then ‘offshore’ as fast as they can.

“It’s unique. Everyone from the imams in the mosques to academics in the universities, to the graffiti artists and the market traders, the strippers and everybody else, have all come together to create a renaissance—the biggest revolution in the history of its humanity.”

The tech industry had isolated itself behind “a geek culture” with investment targets and numerical measures of success—missing what Hammersley feels makes society great in the first place.

Tech City, stretching from Old Street and Shoreditch to the Olympic Park in Stratford, is the largest hub for creative and digital technology companies in Europe which has expanded in just three years from 15 entrepreneurial start-ups to more than 600 companies today.

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